Word contest #2
From Peter Suber's February 2011 Issue of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter.
Last March I called on your help to find an English verb meaning "to provide open access to". I hoped to find a word as short and sweet as "sell" to use in sentences such as, "We sell the print edition but ____ the digital edition." I published the nominations with comments in April 2010.
I'm calling on your help again. English speakers need a noun and adjective meaning author-side openness, the way that "open access" is a noun and adjective for reader-side openness. For example, a wiki is open in both ways. If we had the new term, then we could say, "A wiki is OA for readers and ____ for authors."
We could also make nuanced assertions such as: "For some scholarly purposes, OA must be complemented by ____, but for other scholarly purposes it needn't."
Allow me a quick digression on the claim that "open access" is both an adjective and a noun. We use it as an adjective when we talk about "open-access articles" (or journals, repositories, or books...). We use it as a noun when we talk about "providing open access" or "converting from toll access to open access". I mention this primarily because I'd like the author-side counterpart to be just as flexible. But I also mention it for those who never quite appreciated that the phrase had this dual use. I wish I could tell you how many journal editors have asked me not to use "open access" as a noun, since under their house rules it's only an adjective. But it's a noun too. "Access" is a noun like "speech", and "open access" is a noun phrase like "free speech". Open access is a kind of access, just as free speech is a kind of speech or a wet dog is a kind of dog.
I want this new term for several reasons. For example, some OA resources which originally lacked author-side openness add it later, and I (and they) need a succinct way to describe what they've done. Sometimes I speak about OA to audiences that know wikis better than they know scholarly journals, and I'd like to say that OA articles have reader-side openness but generally don't have author-side openness. Likewise, I want a short and non-pejorative way to say that Wikipedia is not the poster-child of the OA movement.
I like Wikipedia (and even served a term on the Wikimedia Foundation advisory board), and I like wikis (and even co-founded the Open Access Directory wiki with Robin Peek in 2008). I wish Wikipedia Happy 10th birthday and many happy returns. But wikis have some features, including author-side openness, that OA resources sometimes don't have and sometimes don't want.
My search for a good term here is strictly about vocabulary, not policy. The existence of a clear, well-understood term won't tilt the arguments for or against author-side openness. It will only make those arguments a little clearer. I have no interest in reducing real disputes to verbal disputes; on the contrary.
In any case, I'm not building up to an argument for or against author-side openness. In some kinds of resources, like wikis, author-side openness is more than useful; it's essential. In others, like empirical observations written up by the observers, or interpretations of literature written up by the interpreters, it's more than unnecessary; it's harmful. Nobody should be able to change your report of what you saw, or change your articulation of your reading. In these cases it's enough for other scholars in the discussion to quote, cite, and respond.
While I'm not building up to an argument for or against author-side openness, I would like to write an article on wikis as a medium for scholarship and research. I could make up some terminology for the article. But if there's already a good term struggling for acceptance, I'd like to boost it; and if there isn't, I'd like to ask a lot of creative people for their good ideas before falling back on my own.
In the early days of wikis, I thought that "any day now" someone would come up with a good term for author-side openness. I had the same thought in the early days of Web 2.0. But if a widely used and widely understood term has emerged, I've missed it.
A few years ago, some people used "open source publishing" for works that went beyond reader-side openness to author-side openness. But it didn't catch on. In any case, like the term "wiki", it aimed to cover both kinds of openness rather than isolate author-side openness.
Some people formerly used "open content" for works that went beyond "open access" by adding author-side openness. It didn't catch on in that specific sense, though it did catch on in a more generic sense. In any case, it was like "open source publishing" and tried to cover reader- and author-side openness together, not author-side openness alone.
"Web 2.0" definitely covers author-side openness, but it covers much more as well. I even suspect that it became popular precisely because people wanted to describe the combination of reader- and author-side openness. But unfortunately, it's far broader than author-side openness alone. It's barely fluent as a noun and very clumsy as an adjective.
Sometimes it's enough to have a term that means both reader- and author-side openness. But I want separate terms for those occasions when I want to speak precisely about the two properties on their own. For example, a private wiki has author-side openness but not reader-side openness, while an article in an OA journal or repository has reader-side openness but not author-side openness. The two properties don't always occur together.
If author-side openness ever received the kind of sustained attention that reader-side openness has received, then it would likely need a larger vocabulary than one umbrella term, just as OA has had to distinguish green and gold OA, and gratis and libre OA. Some author-side contributions are vetted or moderated and some are not; some resources are author-side open to everyone and some only to registered users or other subsets of the population. And so on. But for now, I'd be happy with an umbrella term.
BTW, I realize that "reader-side openness" isn't a four-square synonym for OA. I'm only using it for symmetry with "author-side openness" to help zero in on the author-side meaning for which we don't yet have a good term. I know very well that OA serves more than readers. It serves *users* who have more on their minds than reading, and it serves *machines*, like search engines, translators, summarizers, text-miners, and other tools to facilitate access, discovery, retrieval, use, and reuse for a wide range of human beings and other machines.
Likewise, I know that the kind of author-side openness for which I want a term serves more than authors. It serves all the humans and machines who want to add, delete, or revise information on online resources, reorganize them, mash them up, integrate texts and data, or add metadata, tags, links, or other modifications and enhancements.
"Editable" might do the trick. But I'd prefer a term that suggests *openly* editable. The private wiki, a Google Doc with sharing turned off, or for that matter a doc in an offline word processor, is editable but not openly editable. Ditto with similar terms like "modifiable", "mutable" and so on.
As before, there's no prize in this contest except glory. I'll summarize the nominations in the next issue, and post the submissions to the SPARC Open Access Forum for further discussion.
In my last contest, I knew that I was in no position to declare a winner and change the language. But I should have said so more clearly. The most I can expect is a word already widely used for this purpose that has somehow escaped my notice, or a word that I'd be willing to use myself. By making the discussion public, it's also possible that we can create some communal acceptance and momentum for a new term and clarify all our conversations.
Send me your ideas (peter dot suber at gmail dot com). I'll assume that I may name and quote you unless you tell me otherwise.